Review: Spice Tree Blended Malt Scotch Whisky (Compass Box) / by Jason Hambrey

100% Malt Whisky (see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

The first release of The Spice Tree in 2005 utilized French oak staves in American oak barrels to marry characteristics of both types of oak in a single maturation, which the Scotch Whisky Association took legal issue with and forced the discontinuation of the product. Three years after, Compass Box re-released the whisky, this time using toasted French oak barrel heads – however, the aging regimen is quite complicated with three different toasting levels used on the barrel heads for different components before they are all blended together. Primary maturation takes place in first-fill American oak, the secondary maturation takes place in the special custom barrels with the toasted French oak barrel heads. A typical vatting of the malts: 60% Clynelish, 20% Dailuaine, and 20% Teaninich. It is interesting to note that this is the exact same base, in the same barrels, as for Oak Cross, which tastes completely different. The secondary maturation certainly changes both of these whiskies.

Initially all the malts are aged in first fill American oak before being blended in different oak casks for a secondary maturation: 25% in a “vanilla toast” hybrid barrel, 22% in a high infrared toast hybrid barrel, 32% in a hybrid “mocha toast” barrel, and 21% in a first fill American oak barrel. The result is phenomenal.

Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L 20 03 12 3 10:57 88

  • Bottling Date: 2012

Complex, interesting, and oaky - with all sorts of things going on. Fascinatingly oily. Fruit – apple, pears, prunes, raisins; caramel, chillis, green cardamom (a bit more reminiscent of the presentation of cardamom in a dessert vs. a curry, if you understand the distinction - i.e. the floral and lighter side of cardamom comes out), dried ginger, malt- both cereal and lightly earthy barley. The oak tells a beautiful story – it is just big enough but doesn’t overpower and is very well integrated. On the palate, particularly, it is so well integrated with the dried fruit. Subtle, and immensely drinkable. Very pleasing finish as well with the raisins, malt, spice, and oak all present in good quantity and balance. Terrific!

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very high. An incredible whisky for the price.

Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L27 07 18 3 08:42 BB

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Tasting notes above apply, but I did want to revisit and write a few more observations about this dram. It’s a terrifically oaky whisky, but not over-oaked, nor oaked in the way that bourbons are – rather it is a heavy, yet elegant oakiness added to what is distinctly malt whisky. It brings in terrific oaky spice, creaminess, and vanilla to a maltiness which is still present with grain character, earth, and orchard fruit. I do love this stuff.

Interestingly, it’s a bit more in the thread of the new wave of American single malts coming out, in terms of the integration of oak. I’d say it sits between Scottish single malts and some of the more oak-focused American single malts (at least, the best of them). That’s what struck my attention this time around. This whisky is terrific – oaky, malty, complex, balanced, and delicious.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value:  Very High. For $80, it’s very hard to do better than this, particularly in Scotch but also in whisky in general!